Tuesday, 1 July 2014

I have been to … Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the Orkney Islands

Monday 16th June 2014: Southampton
As we had never before driven to Southampton on a Monday morning, we set the alarm clock to wake us at 6.00am. After getting dressed, eating breakfast, and loading the luggage into the car, we set off for Southampton at 8.00am. By 8.30am we had joined the M25 and were on our way around the southern part of the motorway.

We were a few miles away from the junction with the M23 when the satnav warned us that there was a major hold up ahead of us. (An accident was causing a tailback on the M25 that was going to add at least an hour onto our projected journey time.) The satnav quickly calculated an alternative route which took us south along the M23 towards Brighton before navigating us across country towards Southampton via Arundel, Chichester, and Havant. We reached the Mayflower Cruise Terminal in Southampton not long after 11.00am.

Once at the terminal, we unloaded our car, which was then whisked away by the valet parking service. A porter took charge of our luggage, and we made our way through the embarkation process. This took very little time to complete, unlike the security checks, which seemed to take for ever. Even though the latter was not as slick as it has been on previous cruises, the delay was not too great, and by midday we had boarded P&O's Arcadia and were seated in the upper tier of Meridian Restaurant drinking champagne or orange juice whilst eating a snack lunch. Just after 1.00pm we were informed that our cabin was ready, and by 1.15pm we had our entire luggage and had begun unpacking.

Because we had booked the cruise only a few weeks beforehand, we had been allocated Freedom Dining rather than our preferred option, Second Sitting Club Dining. At just after 3.00pm we went to the lower part of the Meridian Restaurant to see the Restaurant Manager in the hope that we could change our dining arrangements. The queue was quite long, and we finally saw the Restaurant Manager only a few minutes before the safety briefing started. We managed to get to our cabin, collect our lifejackets, and return to our muster station – which was in the Meridian Restaurant – by the time that the briefing started at 4.00pm.

As usual the Captain – in this instance, Captain Trevor Lane – went through the ships’ emergency procedures in some detail, after which the members of the crew allocated to our muster station checked that all of us knew how to put our lifejackets on. This briefing ended at approximately 4.30pm, and by the time we had returned to our cabin with our lifejackets, Arcadia was ready to cast off and move away from the terminal.

We made our way up to the area near the Aquarius Bar on Deck 9 Aft as the Arcadia slowly made her way down river towards the sea. On the way we passed a small cruise liner (Enrichment Voyages' Explorer), …

… Princess Cruises' Ruby Princess, …

… the recently renovated steam yacht Shemara, …

… and the ex-sludge ship – and now one of the few preserved and fully functioning steam ships that remain in service – SS Shieldhall.

Arcadia also passed the Hartland Point which was moored alongside the military port at Marchwood.

We decided to return to the Aquarius Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and not long after 8.30pm we joined queue of passengers outside the Meridian Restaurant waiting to be shown to their table. This wait lasted about fifteen minutes, and by 9.00pm we were sat at a table, ordering our food, and waiting for the first course to be served.

By the time that dinner was over we were both feeling very tired, and decided to return to our cabin to sleep. The almost imperceptible rocking of the ship helped us both to fall asleep very quickly, and I had my first night of uninterrupted in quite some time.

Tuesday 17th June 2014: At sea
The sun was shining, the sea was calm, and there hardly any clouds in the sky when we awoke at 8.00am. A quick reference to the Passenger Information Channel on the in-cabin TV system showed that Arcadia had almost reached Land's End, and I could see the unmistakable silhouette of a Royal Navy Type 23 Frigate on the southern horizon.

By 9.15am were ready to go for breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, after which we were went for a leisurely stroll around the ship. At 11.00am we made our way to The Globe lounge on Deck 2 Midships, where we watched the film THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL until 12.30pm. The film was very entertaining and it contained some items of interest for anyone who has created – or is thinking about creating – an inter-war imagi-nation.

We went back to the Aquarius Bar for a pre-lunch drink, after which we went to the Sandwich and Salad Bar next to the Neptune Pool for lunch. Although there was only a short queue for sandwiches, there were no tables nearby where we could sit and eat them. After looking around the pool area and in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for a spare table, we eventually ended up back near the Aquarius Bar where there was some space to sit and eat.

After lunch we returned to our cabin to rest and to read, although we did have a short break at about 4.00pm to go for a cup of tea and a cake in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant. By this time Arcadia had hit a fog bank, and we experienced the odd sensation of sailing through fog whilst the sun was shining directly above us!

From about 5.00pm onwards the fog cleared and we began to get ready for the first formal dinner of the cruise. This was preceded by the Captain’s Gala Reception, which was held in area around the Neptune Pool. Captain Trevor Lane gave a humorous welcoming speech and introduced the ship's senior management team. This including Michelle – the Head of Human Resources – who we know very well indeed, having met her before on several of our recent cruises ... including our most recent one aboard Azura in April 2014.

After the Reception we went to the Meridian Restaurant for dinner. The Restaurant Manager had managed to move us from Freedom Dining to Second Sitting Club Dining, and we had been allocated seats on a table for eight. We were shown to our table by one of the waiters, and then introduced ourselves to our new dinner companions.

We decided to go up to the Aquarius Bar after dinner for a breath of fresh air. Suitably refreshed we then returned to our cabin and I began to read Martin Cruz Smith's POLAR STAR on my Kindle before going to sleep.

Wednesday 18th June 2014: At sea
We were awoken not long after 7.00am by the sound of the ship's foghorn being sounded at regular intervals. The sea was shrouded in fog, and visibility was very limited. The fog persisted until just before we went to eat breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant … and it returned soon after we left the restaurant to go up on deck for a breath of fresh air. Despite the fog it was not very cold and we sat in the covered area near the Aquarius Bar for about an hour, after which we went back to our cabin to collect our Kindles and our laptop before making our way up to the Crow's Nest Bar on Deck 10 Forward.

Whilst we were in the Crow's Nest Bar I made some minor changes to the book I am writing about the ten members of my Mother Lodge who served in the Armed Forces during the First World War.

We stayed in the Crow's Nest Bar until after midday. By then the fog had dispersed and we went back to the Aquarius Bar for a drink. Because the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant was very crowded we decided to postpone having lunch until later that afternoon and as the fog had returned – yet again – we returned to our cabin to read and to rest.

At 2.30pm we finally went to lunch, by which time the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant was almost empty. We ate an unhurried lunch, and then went back to the Aquarius Bar for a drink before returning to our cabin to read and rest. Just before 8.00pm we returned to the Aquarius Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and at 8.30pm we made our way down to the Meridian Restaurant for dinner.

After a very quiet and relaxing day we were both feeling quite tired, but we still felt awake enough to have one last drink in the Aquarius Bar prior to returning to our cabin to go to sleep.

Thursday 19th June 2014: At sea
Overnight Arcadia had reached halfway between Scotland and Iceland, and it was no surprise to see that the sea and sky were both quite grey when we woke up just after 7.30am. After a somewhat leisurely breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we went out on deck for a short while to see how warm it was. The air temperature was 12°C/54°F – which was not quite as cold as we had expected – and it was comfortable enough to sit outside for 10 to 15 minutes.

Once we began to feel cold we returned to our cabin and sat reading until it was time to get ready for the Peninsular Club Lunch, which was held in the upper part of the Meridian Restaurant. The meal started at midday, and we were lucky enough to sit at a table that was hosted by Michelle, the Human Resources Manager. As I mentioned earlier in this blog entry, we had met her on several previous cruises – including our last – and had already talked to her soon after Arcadia had set sail from Southampton as well as at the Captain’s Gala Reception.

As usual the Peninsular Club Lunch was excellent. The food was of a very high quality and company was interesting, and the two hours we spent eating lunch seemed to pass very quickly. Afterwards we decided to have a quick breath of fresh air on deck before returning to our cabin to rest and read for the remainder of the afternoon. In the end we stayed on deck for over two hours chatting to people we had cruised with some years ago

Because that evening’s meal was yet another formal dinner – the second in three days – we made doubly sure that we were ready in plenty of time so that we could have a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar. We expected that the bar would be very crowded as TV coverage of England's second match of the FIFA World Cup was due to start at 8.00pm … half an hour before the restaurant was due to open for the Second Sitting.

The choice of food on the formal dinner's menu was very extensive – as usual – and having made out selection, we sat back and enjoyed the conversation around the table whilst we waited to be served each course. After dinner we went back for a walk along the Promenade Deck before going to watch the first show of the cruise – 'Breakdown Blues' – in the Palladium Theatre. Once that was over we went back to our cabin to sleep. As I had finished reading POLAR STAR, I began the next book in the series of Martin Cruz Smith's 'Arkardy Renko' stories, RED SQUARE.

Friday 20th June 2014: Reykjavik, Iceland
It was raining quite heavily as we came alongside in Reykjavik. As we sailed into the harbour we passed another cruise ship, Phoenix Reisen's Amadea.

Arcadia tied up at the Cruise Terminal soon after 8.00am (an hour earlier than expected) and by 8.30am that the gangways were in place and the process of customs and immigration clearance had begun. We went to breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant whilst this was taking place, and by the time we had returned to our cabin to pick up our coats and going ashore bags, passengers were allowed to leave the ship.

We took the locally-provided shuttle-bus from the Cruise Terminal to the centre of Reykjavik. It dropped us off outside the Harpa Concert Hall, and from there it was a short walk to the main streets of the older part of the city.

Our route took us up Laugavegar

… and then uphill along Skólavöròustigur towards Hallgrim's Church (Hallgrimskirkja). (Hallgrimskirkja is a Luthern church, and was designed by Guđjón Samúelsson. It has been under construction since the end of the Second World War.)

As we ascended the hill we passed some typical Icelandic houses.

Hallgrimskirkja looked even more impressive when we reached the top of the hill.

Outside the entrance to Hallgrimskirkja is Alexander Stirling Calder's statue of Liefur Eiríksson, who is reputed to have been the first European to 'discover' North America.

The inside of Hallgrimskirkja is surprisingly light, and this is due to the lack of stained glass in any of the windows.

We could only find one piece of stained glass in the whole structure, and that was a panel in what would normally be the Lady Chapel of a church.

Hallgrimskirkja possesses a magnificent modern organ, which is installed above the main entrance to the church.

It is used for both church music and for musical performances throughout the year.

Leaving Hallgrimskirkja behind us …

… we turned down Frakkastigur towards the sea.

By this time we were feeling rather thirsty, and when we rejoined Laugavegar we began looking for a café. We found one – Sandholt – almost immediately …

… and quickly went inside and ordered two café lattes. These turned out to be amongst the best café lattes were have ever drunk, and although they were not cheap (they cost 950 Icelandic Krónur), they were well worth what they cost.

Suitable refreshed we continued our walk down Laugavegar and into Bankastraeti

… before turning right onto Saebraut. As we turned we saw an Icelandic Patrol Ship …

… and what appeared to be some fishery research vessels ...

… moored in the harbour.

Saebraut is the main road along the edge of the sea, and we walked as far as Jón Gunnar Árnason's stainless-steel sculpture entitled Sólfar (Sun Voyager), which is based on the design of a classic Viking longboat.

At this point the sky – which had been relatively cloudless since we had arrived in the centre of Reykjavik – began to darken and what looked like rain-clouds began to gather. We therefore decided to make our way back to the shuttle-bus pick-up point as quickly as we could. Luckily a shuttle-bus was ready to leave and we managed to get back to Arcadia before it began to rain.

After dropping off our coats and bags in our cabin, we went upstairs for a quick drink in the Aquarius Bar before eating lunch in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant. We finished eating at about 2.30pm, at which point we returned to our cabin to read and rest until it was time to sail.

For some reason best known to the Cruise Director, the evening's sail-away and dinner were given a tropical theme and passengers were expected to turn up wearing suitable clothing. I decided to wear a colourful batik shirt that my wife bought for me whilst we were on St Kitt's in the Caribbean. I wore it when we went up to the Aquarius Bar for our usual pre-dinner drink … and got rather cold. When we went down to dinner in the Meridian Restaurant, we found that quite a few other diners were also wearing tropically-themed clothes, despite of the fact that the outside air temperature was 10°C/50°F and the Arcadia was sailing towards the Arctic Circle!

After dinner – which was vaguely tropical in content – we returned to the Aquarius Bar for some fresh air before going back to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Saturday 21st June 2014: Isafjordur, Iceland
The passage from Reykjavik to Isafijordur was quite leisurely and undisturbed …

… and we arrived outside the port just before 7.00am.

Arcadia then slowly manoeuvred into position some distance offshore as she was too big to moor alongside the dock.

After breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant we got ourselves ready to go ashore. We waited until we thought that the initial rush of passengers to catch one of the tenders was over, collected our tender tickets from the officers stationed in the Intermezzo Bar, and waited patiently until our number was announced. Once that had happened, we went down to the ship's tender pontoon, boarded our tender, and went ashore. The wait for the announcement lasted for twenty minutes and the trip took another twenty minutes, with the result that we disembarked in Isafjordur at 11.00 am.

The town is quite small, and easy to walk around. It had an interesting collection of houses …

… some of which were in a better state of repair than others!

One building that stood out was the local Lutheran church …

… which contained a very impressive altar piece made from hundreds of clay model birds.

Each bird was made by a different member of the parish, and is truly representative of the local community.

Parked outside one of the local café/bakeries (Gamla Bakaríid) were two antique cars, a Ford Model T van …

… and a Model A saloon.

We did not stop there for a drink; instead we visited the Kaffihús Bakarans

… where I drank a café latte and ate an iced doughnut, and my wife – Susan – drank a hot chocolate and ate a local pastry.

After our refreshment break we walked alongside one of the docks, where we saw a large and somewhat rusty stern trawler that was moored alongside.

Only a few hundred yards further on we came to the local maritime museum.

It tells the story of the Icelandic fishing industry, and particularly Isafjord's part in that history. Its exhibits – which include a large number of models of fishing boats – will be covered in a separate blog entry.

It was only a short walk from the museum to the jetty where we had to board the tender for the return journey to Arcadia, and although we had to wait for about ten minutes, we were back aboard by 2.15pm. After taking our coats and bags back to our cabin we went up to the Neptune Grill, where we ate fish and chips. We then walked along the deck to the Aquarius Bar, where we sat watching the scenery until 3.30pm. By then it had begun to get cold, and we decided to go back to our cabin to warm up, rest, and read.

Quite early on during the cruise we had booked two meals at the Ocean Grill – one of the ship’s select dining venues – and on this evening we ate the first of those meals. The food and service were excellent, and were well worth the small additional charge on our on-board account.

As it was the Summer Solstice we decided to stay up and to try to photograph the sun at midnight. After dinner we went back to our cabin, where we stayed until just after 11.00pm. It was interesting to note that the in-cabin information system stated that the ship was sailing at latitude 66°33” North … the line of the Arctic Circle.

Unfortunately low cloud obscured the view of the sun as it dipped towards the horizon, although the effect of its rays shining through the cloud was very interesting, and it looked like this at midnight:

When we returned to our cabin we downloaded our photographs onto our laptop computer … and noticed that there was a 'blip' on the horizon that was silhouetted by the sun's rays.

Closer examination of the image seemed to show a very regularly shaped object …

… which appeared to be too regular to be natural. The only conclusion that we could come to was that it was another ship that was to the north of Arcadia.

Sunday 22nd June 2014: Akureyri, Iceland
We arrived in Akureyri not long after 7.15am, and by 8.00pm Arcadia was moored alongside the quay and all the local formalities had been completed. On the opposite side of the fjord we saw an unusual sight … a waterfall that steamed!

Moored nearby was the Danish warship HMDS Triton (F358), a Thetis-class frigate.

After eating breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant, we went up to the Aquarius Bar for some fresh air and to look at the view … which was stunning!

Whilst we were admiring the view, another cruise ship – the Aida Sol – sailed past Arcadia and moored alongside another part of the dock.

We finally went ashore at 10.30am, and walked towards the centre of the town. Along the way we crossed a main road, where the red section of the traffic lights is heart-shaped!

This was introduced by the local mayor some years ago to celebrate St Valentine's Day … and the locals liked it so much that the shape of the lights has not been changed back.

We soon reached the main square in the centre of Akureyri …

… and then along the main shopping street, Hafnarstraeti. A steep hill rose up on our right, and at the top of it was Akureyrarkirkja (Akureyri church) which was designed by Guđjón Samúelsson, the architect of Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik.

We chose to continue our walk along the lower road, where we passed a very interesting water feature …

… which led down from Sigurhaedir, the home of Matthias Jochumsson, a famous Icelandic poet. The house is now a museum devoted to the memory and works of the poet.

As it was getting somewhat colder and light rain had begun to fall, we decided to begin to walk back to Arcadia. On the outskirts of the town centre we saw an unusual sculpture entitled 'Sigling.

This turned out to have been created by Jón Gunnar Árnason, whose Sólfar (Sun Voyager) we had seen in Reyjavik.

By the time we got back to Arcadia we were both feeling very cold, and we staying in our cabin for some time – warming up – before we went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for lunch. We then spent the rest of the afternoon reading and resting … and booking a cruise to North America that will take place in 2015!

After our usual pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar and dinner in the Meridian Restaurant, we returned to the Aquarius Bar to sit and watch the passing scenery of northern Iceland as the Arcadia sailed northwards across the line of latitude that marked the boundary with the Arctic Circle. Whilst we were there we saw the plumes of several whales who were swimming on a parallel course to Arcadia's.

By not long after 11.00pm we decided that it was getting too cold to remain on deck, and we returned to our cabin to get ready to sleep. I managed to finish reading the last few chapters of RED SQUARE and to begin reading HAVANA BAY, the next book in the series of 'Arkady Renko' novels written by Martin Cruz Smith.

Monday 23rd June 2014: At sea
Because Arcadia sailed south and eastwards from Iceland on its way to the Faroe Islands, we had to move our clocks forward an hour overnight, and thus 'lost' an hour of sleep. (We had gained an hour earlier in the cruise in order for the ship to be operating on local time when we reached Iceland.)

After all the excitement of the past few days we had a quiet and relaxing day. After eating breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant and spending a short time in the open air by the Aquarius Bar, we went up to the Crow's Nest Bar to sit and read. We stayed there until just before 1.00pm, when we went down to the Neptune Pool and had a sandwich each for lunch. The area around to pool was not as warm as we had hoped it would be, and after eating we went back to our cabin to rest and read.

During the afternoon the Deck Supervisor called to sort out a problem that had developed with the lock on our cabin door. Although my keycard would unlock the door most of the time, my wife Susan's keycard would not. Her keycard had previously been replaced three times, and her latest keycard – with which she had only just been issued – still failed to open the door. When this had happened she had reported the problem – for a second time – to Reception. After a further visit from the Deck Supervisor failed to sort out the problem – after which my keycard was also unable to unlock the cabin door – a technician was summoned … and they were told to fix the problem whilst we were eating dinner.

The evening meal was the third formal dinner of the cruise, and we began to get ready just after 5.00pm. As has become our custom on this cruise, we both had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar before eating dinner in the Meridian Restaurant, after which we had a short stroll along the Promenade Deck. By this time we were both feeling rather tired and we decided to have an early night. As a result we went straight back to our cabin (where we were able to unlock the door without any problems!) and got our bags and cameras ready for our trip ashore to Tórshavn on the following day. Although I was feeling tired, I just about managed to read a couple of chapters of HAVANA BAY before going to sleep.

Tuesday 24th June 2014: Tórshavn, Faroe Islands
Arcadia maintained a steady speed overnight, and arrived off Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands by the time we woke up at 7.45am. She had already swung out and lowered her tenders, and at 8.00am the Deputy Captain announced that all the formalities had been completed and passengers could begin going ashore.

As we were not going on an organised tour, we decided not to rush and had a leisurely breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant before going back to our cabin to pick up our coats, bags, and cameras. We then collected our tender tickets and waited in Spinnakers Bar until our numbers were called, at which point we went down to the pontoon to board a tender.

The ride into Tórshavn's harbour took less than fifteen minutes, and by 10.30am we were ashore and walking towards Tinganes, the oldest part of the town.

This area contains a large number of preserved buildings – many of which had turf roofs, a feature of traditional Faroese houses – and is a residential area as well as the location of the Faroese Parliament and the Office of the Prime Minister.

After spending quite some time looking at these wonderful buildings we walked back to the harbour and turned inland and began to walk up Áarvegur.

This is the main shopping area of Tórshavn, and whilst we were there we indulged in some retail therapy! We also drank a couple of café lattes in the Kafe Kaspar, which was full of newly graduated High School students.

Suitably refreshed we walked back to the harbour and along Kongabrúgvin and Havnargøta to the old fort that was built in the eighteenth century to protect Tórshavn from attack.

This proved to be a small but very interesting example of a coastal defence fortification, and will be covered in greater detail in a separate blog entry.

We got rather cold during our visit to the old fort, and decided to drink some more café lattes, this time in the Café Natur.

Whilst we had been ashore another cruise ship – Phoenix Reisen's Albatross – had arrived in Tórshavn. Unlike Arcadia she had been able to moor alongside the dock, which meant that her passengers did not have to use tenders to get to and from their ship.

By this time it was after 2.00pm and we were beginning to feel hungry. The last tender was due to leave at 3.30pm and we felt that eating ashore might mean that we would be cutting things a bit fine if we stayed in Tórshavn. We therefore boarded the next tender, and by 2.45pm we had got back to Arcadia, dropped off our bags and coats in our cabin, and were seated near the Neptune Pool eating fish and chips from the Neptune Grill.

Whilst we were eating an announcement reminded us that the Entertainment Staff were organising a special 'Great British Sail-Away' in the deck area around the Aquarius Bar. As we always enjoy this, we went to the Aquarius Bar and took part.

The whole thing lasted about forty-five minutes, and it was nice to see so many passengers enjoying themselves.

Arcadia was late sailing from Tórshavn thanks to a passenger who had missed the last passenger tender from the harbour back to the ship. Luckily a tender had to remain behind to bring back the ship's the shore party from the dockside, and the 'missing' passenger was able to get back to Arcadia just before she set sail. (If the passenger had missed the sailing, they would have had to fly to Kirkwall next day to rejoin the cruise. If this had not been possible they would have been flown back to the UK mainland, and would have missed the remaining part of the cruise.)

We returned to our cabin just before 5.00pm, and after getting warm and having a bit of a rest, we began to get ready for our evening meal. It was just about warm enough to sit and have a pre-dinner drink by the Aquarius Bar – which we did – before going to the Meridian Restaurant for dinner. After dinner we had a short break on deck for some fresh air, but as we had an early start the next morning we decided to have an early night rather than to go to the show in the Palladium Theatre or to have a post-dinner drink.

Wednesday 25th June 2014: Kirkwall, Orkney Islands
When we booked this cruise we had been told that Arcadia would not be able to moor alongside in Kirkwall, and that passengers would have to be tendered into the port from outside the harbour. We were then told on Tuesday 24th June that the situation had changed, and that the ship would be able to moor next to the dockside. As we were unsure what the arrangements might eventually be (we had a sneaking suspicion that Arcadia might have to tender its passengers in once it reached Kirkwall) we were awake earlier than usual – 7.15am – and were just in time to see the local Pilot Boat (the John Rae) come alongside Arcadia.

Kirkwall was the only place where we had booked places on an organised tour – 'Scenic South Isles' – and by 9.30am we had eaten breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant and were sitting in the Palladium Theatre with the rest of the tour party waiting to go ashore to board our coach. Despite our concerns, we did not have to tender ashore, and were able to walk off down the gangway and straight onto our coach.

Our coach took us via Kirkwall …

… to the isle of Burray. The road we used crossed between several other islands via causeways that were built between 1941 and 1945, and which are called 'Churchill Barriers'. (The barriers were built after the U47 – captained by Gunter Prien – sank the battleship HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow during October 1939.)

We stopped for tea, scones, and shortbread at the Sands Hotel.

The coach them took us to a viewpoint from which we could see the Pentland Firth – the stretch of water that separates Orkney from mainland Scotland – and several of the larger Orkney islands.

Our next stop was at the village of St Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay, where we spent time looking across the harbour ('Hope' is a corruption of the Norse word for harbour) …

… and at the solid granite houses that line the seafront.

We also visited a small local blacksmith's museum that used to be run as a smithy by the Hourston family.

The coach then took us to the isle of Lamb Holm. On the way we passed the remains of some of the blockships that were sunk during the Second and First World Wars to block several of the access points to Scapa Flow.

Lamb Holm is connected to the main island of the Orkneys – known as Mainland – via the 'Churchill Barrier' that blocks the channel through which Gunter Prien navigated U47 on his way to torpedo HMS Royal Oak.

The barrier is built from blocks of concrete weighing between five and ten tons.

Our reason for visiting Lamb Holm was to see the famous Italian Chapel. This was built during the Second World War by Italian prisoners of war who were housed in Camp 60 on Lamb Holm and whose labour was used to build the 'Churchill Barriers'.

The chapel began life as a Nissan Hut, a fact that is not obvious when it is seen from the front, but it is when you walk around the back of the building.

It is exquisitely decorated inside with extensive use of trompe l'oeil (painted 'tricks of the eye'), and it is amazing to realise that everything was made from scrap metal, plaster, and whatever paint was at hand.

Outside the chapel is a statue of St George killing the dragon, and this was made using cement on an armature made from barbed wire.

Our tour took us back through Kirkwall, and we asked to be dropped off in the town rather than be driven back to Arcadia. Once in Kirkwall we walked towards St Magnus Cathedral, the entrance to whose churchyard is dominated by a War Memorial.

The Cathedral is constructed from a mixture of local red and white sandstone, and was founded in 1137 by Norse Earl Rognvald in memory of his murdered uncle Magnus.

The buildings surrounding the Cathedral are an interesting mixture of Scottish 'baronial'-style …

… and more conventional Georgian architecture.

The latter example is 'The Reel', where we stopped for a drink before continuing our exploration of Kirkwall. This took us down the main shopping street in the town, Albert Street, …

… and then along Bridge Street to the harbour.

On the way back through the town to the shuttle-bus pick-up point we indulged in some retail therapy … which included an excellent ice-cream each made from local Orkney milk.

We finally got back to Arcadia just after 3.15pm, and after a swift visit to our cabin to drop off our stuff we went up to the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant for a somewhat belated snack lunch and a drink.

Not long after 6.00pm we began to get ready for our second dinner in ‘the Ocean Grill, one of the ship’s select dining venues. Our preparations were interrupted by the arrival on the quayside of the Kirkwall City Pipe Band, who played a selection of pipe music until it was time for the Arcadia to cast off and leave.

After a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, we made our way to the Ocean Grill in time for our booking at 7.45pm. The food and service was – as we have come to expect – of an exceptionally high quality. We finished eating soon after 10.00pm, and we then returned to our cabin to rest and to sleep.

Thursday 26th June 2014: At sea
The passage from Kirkwall out into the North Sea started fairly calmly, but during the night a distinct swell developed. In fact the movement became so noticeable that at one point during the night it woke both of us up. By morning – however – the sea was much calmer, and when we finally got up at 8.00pm to get ready to go for breakfast, the sea state was smooth with a short, low swell.

After breakfast in The Meridian Restaurant we went up to the open deck near to the Aquarius Bar. The air temperature was warmer than it had been for the last week or so, and we decided to go back to our cabin, collect our Kindles and iPads, and return to sit in the open for as long as it was warm enough to do so.

By midday the sun was breaking through the cloud cover and the air temperature had risen by several degrees. For lunch we each ate a sandwich from the Sandwich and Salad Bar next to the Neptune Pool, and remained by the Aquarius Bar until after 3.00pm, by which time the wind had changed direction enough to begin to make us feel cold. We therefore returned to our cabin and spent the rest of the afternoon reading and resting before getting ready for dinner.

We had been invited to the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party which was held before the last formal dinner of the cruise. The party took place in the area around the Neptune Pool, and we were lucky enough to meet our friend Michelle near the entrance. She joined us for a drink whilst Captain Lane made his speech of welcome and then drew the prize raffle.

As has now become the custom on P&O ships, the last formal dinner of a cruise is always marked by a special menu and a parade of all the chefs. The menu was one devised by Marco Pierre White – whose food we always enjoy – and it was very good. At 9.45pm the chefs paraded through the Meridian Restaurant and their passage was marked by considerable cheering and clapping … and the taking of photographs.

After dinner we went for a short walk along the Promenade Deck and then on into the Palladium Theatre, where we watched a show based around British film music from the 1960s onwards. We returned to our cabin via the Promenade Deck and went to sleep after reading for a short while. I finished HAVANA BAY and began the next book in the series, WOLVES EAT DOGS.

Friday 27th June 2014: At sea
We both awoke slightly earlier than usual to find that Arcadia was some miles off the coast of England and roughly level with Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. There were several oil and gas platforms in the surrounding bit of sea (I counted nine at one point), and we passed quite close to some of them.

As we were in no rush we took our time getting ready for breakfast, which – as usual – we ate in the Meridian Restaurant. The sky was a little cloudy but the air temperature was rising and after breakfast we sat near the Aquarius Bar for a while. We then went back to our cabin to collect our Kindles and iPads before returning to the open deck. It was at this point that we noticed how glassily calm the sea looked.

During our time on deck we saw several ships, including a medium-sized container ship …

… and what looked like a bulk carrier.

After lunch in the Belvedere Self Service Restaurant we went back in our cabin by just after 2.00pm … and then began the process of packing. We had a short break at about 3.30pm for some refreshments, and then continued our packing. This took until 4.45pm, by which time all but one of our bags was packed ready to be placed outside the door of our cabin for collection.

We spent what remained of the afternoon reading, resting, and getting ready for dinner. As usual we had a pre-dinner drink in the Aquarius Bar, and then went down to the Meridian Restaurant. We had a very enjoyable dinner, and ended by spending some time saying our goodbyes to the people with whom we had shared a table and the staff who have served us so well during the cruise. Once that was over we had one last breath of fresh air on deck near the Aquarius Bar, and then went below to pack our final bag before going to bed.

Saturday 28th June 2014: Southampton
Arcadia moored alongside the Queen Elizabeth II Cruise Terminal in Southampton at 7.00am, and by 7.30am we were dressed, had packed our hand luggage, and were on our way to eat breakfast in the Meridian Restaurant. We then said a final goodbye to our cabin steward, and had made our way ashore at 8.30am.

We collected our bags from the luggage hall, passed through the Customs checks, and had picked up our car from the valet parking service by 8.45am … the fastest I can ever remember completing the disembarkation process! The journey home took just under two and a half hours, and by 11.30am we had unloaded the car and were sitting down in our house having a drink.

Our trip to Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the Orkney Islands was finally over … but we have already begun planning for the next one … and the one after that … and the one after that as well!


  1. Marvelous photos! Good inspiration for wargames terrain in a fictional land!

    This is a trip I would love to take. I blame Jules Verne for my interest in visiting Iceland and my heritage for an interest in the Scottish isles.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great pictures as usual. Iceland is one of the few European countries I have not visited. It also reminds me of Journey to the Centre of the Earth!

    I went on a trip on the SS Shieldwall last year!

  3. Ross Mac,

    I must admit that the terrain we saw during our cruise was inspiring ... and did set my mind thinking along a possible imagi-nation route.

    I am sure that you would enjoy a trip to Iceland and Scotland. Any chance that you might make it one day?

    All the best,


  4. Legatus Hedlius,

    Seeing Iceland and Norway has enabled me to understand a lot more about what motivated the Vikings and their social and belief systems. I strongly encourage you to visit Iceland if the opportunity ever arises.

    You have made a trip on the Shieldhall? I truly envy you as I love steam-powered ships, something that goes back to when I was very young and travelled aboard the old Woolwich ferry and watched the engines at work through the observation window.

    All the best,


  5. Fantastic travelogue Bob. I got exhausted just reading it.

    Puts my efforts to shame.

    Am still struggling with hayfever but will update my blog in a few days.

  6. Jim Duncan,

    Thanks very much! It was a very enjoyable cruise ... and actually quite restful.

    I hope that you manage to overcome your current very bad case of hay fever. It sounds like one of the worst cases I have ever read about.

    All the best,